In this debut feature by writer-director Laura Wandel, shortlisted for the Academy Award® for Best International Film, the everyday reality of grade school is seen from a child’s-eye-view as an obstacle course of degradation and abuse. Following 7-year-old Nora and her big brother Abel, we see Nora struggling to fit in before finding her place on the schoolyard. One day, she notices Abel being bullied by other kids, and though she rushes to protect him by warning their father, Abel forces her to remain silent, while he endures more humiliation and harassment by his peers. Transposing the gritty realism of such filmmakers as Jacques Audiard and the Dardennes Brothers to the inner world of kids, Wandel crafts an empathetic and visceral portrait of the cruelty of children, and the failure of adults to protect them.
What We Thought:
Playground is lead by an absolutely fantastic performance from the young actress portraying the sister character Nora. She is just brilliant and captures your heart instantly. The story we’ve seen before, a classic story of outsider type kids in a school environment, but the acting carries the film.
Nora wants to fit in and make friends. She does all kinds of sports and school activities. Her brother struggles to make friends and gets bullied hard. He thinks she’s making things worse for him, but she wants to protect him. Ultimately she realizes she might have to separate herself from her brother because others are looking at her differently and making her life tougher. But she can’t watch anymore and eventually she has to do what she thinks is right when Abel himself becomes a bully.
The film is relatively short and that helps. It doesn’t wander or lose steam. It doesn’t get into why the father doesn’t work which causes issues for Nora because of classmates talking poorly of him. The movie gives you just enough to tell you who the brother and sister are and the young actress takes it from there. Honestly I just thought she was great. A different actress and I might have found it to be too generic or similar to dozens of other movies.
Playground is Belgian, but the story is universal. It’s easy to get into and easy to follow along. The young girl will instantly hold your attention and you hope she can balance out being herself and her older brother’s keeper. Because of her performance the movie is…
- Bonus Short Film — Les corps étrangers (Foreign Bodies) (Directed by Laura Wandel | Belgium | French with English subtitles | 15 minutes) A war photographer who lost a leg and his physical therapist help each other see their respective worlds in a new light.